Yertle the Turtle and the 47%

Dr. Seuss weighed in on the news about the 47% of “dependent” Americans and “the distribution of wealth” and power with the non-partisan story of Yertle the Turtle.

A comment on “Uproar over video offers a warning about what happens when fundamentalism wins” (MPR commentary September 18, 2012) on religion as a tide pool).

Here’s an edited version of what someone named Dan Brunner wrote:

I think tide pools vary but are basically the same-1 source, (1 God) bound by laws of nature (God/humanity/morality) composed of bits of the ocean’s ecosystem (people/works). Tide pool waters are nature being apostolic; even if the ocean isn’t within eyesight, people are instinctively drawn to the marvel of and connection to it, and at the core are likely to believe the tide pool is evidence that there is something greater beyond.
There should be simple joy/peace in such a marvelous place, given space and freedom, there probably wouldn’t be conflict, however a turtle without good motive, without talent or merit can make itself king of a pond, can control and oppress other turtles to elevate oneself/opinion. With the myth that Yertle has achieved the height required for the greater vision, he’s given the power to create arguments around whose tide pool is better, bigger of more virtue; Yertle can burn Korans, yell God hates __ and misrepresent both history and what other Yertles say.

In the book, supporters supported until they physically couldn’t, but sometimes, in real life, Yertle supporters crawl out of the pond and get on a bus. Each tide pool can have its own Yertle and Yertle-supporters….
The Yertles argue; supporters support. Like a commodity, the tide pool can be fortified, quartered, used, harvested and polluted. The spiritual draw is weakened, but we sit there content and convinced we are right, or we feel obligated to follow tribe/tradition/peers to the point where we end up like the water you describe  – slimy, stinky and immune to the stench.  It’s good to be part of the tide pool, but isn’t our quest to be towards the ever-fresh ocean? Could/would Yertle ever explain that, if it meant he would no longer be seen as king of the pond?

Join Dan and chime in on the discussion of the tide pools (ponds), the kings, and poor little Mac at the bottom of the Yertle tower (the Tower of Babel) whose burp saved turtles from the tyranny of Yertle.

Redistribution of Wealth in America

Mitt Romney’s haughty remark insulting the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income taxes is in the news. The issue of wealth distribution is philosophical and moral.  Isn’t it time folks concerned about the redistribution of wealth to the top stop being bullied and take back the language?. Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) published this piece in 2010.

“Fear ‘redistribution of wealth’? Don’t look now”

by Gordon C. Stewart

December 14, 2010

Those who own the language rule the world. Words can ignite the spark of hope; they can also light the fires of fear.

Take, for instance, the phrases “redistribution of wealth” and “class warfare.”  The visceral response in the American psyche is fear — fear of communism.  And those who cry the loudest are those who have already waged class warfare, albeit quietly.

Wealth in America already has been redistributed.  The only question is whether to let that redistribution continue, or to “re-redistribute” the upward distribution that has already taken place.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is a rare voice of clarity.  “Mr. President,” he said in last week’s Senate debate on extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, “in the year 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made twenty-three and a half percent of all income … more than the entire bottom 50 percent.” Polifact.com checked Sanders’ claims and rated them “true.”

Redistribution of wealth has already happened in America, but no one calls it that. It has been in the making for decades. How and why did it happen? How did the 99 percent allow it to happen?

It was a quiet class war that appealed to the middle class belief that one day we, too, could be rich.  It was a war of words that sparked the fear that a far-off dream would be taken away.  It was a class war in which no one fought back. It was waged and won not by force of arms  but by the use of code words  like “redistribution of wealth” that hinted a sinister communist or socialist agenda. The result was the slow decimation of the progressive tax structure that once ensured the nation’s fiscal health and that sought some measure of fairness and well-being for all people in America.

One of Minneapolis’ wealthiest people invites me to lunch at her club. The club itself is a place of power and privilege, but I have learned to expect the unexpected there. My host has a conscience. She does great things with her accumulated wealth, but she is clearly troubled today. She wants to talk with her pastor about the drift of things in our state and across America, about her income taxes, and about her faith.

“It’s not right,” she says. “I should be paying more. I’m not alone in feeling that way.  More should be expected from those who have so much. We’re not carrying our fair share of the burden.  I want to pay a higher rate. I don’t need a tax break!”

Like others who have signed on with Wealth for the Common Good and Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, she knows that she did not produce her wealth. Middle class and lower class wage earners did.

The 2008 election offered hope that finally the people of America had awakened to the redistribution of wealth and power. In 2010 that hope is all but gone, held hostage by a Congress and a president who claim that, for the sake of extending middle class tax cuts and unemployment insurance for the unemployed, they must also continue the tax breaks for the wealthy, the growing deficit notwithstanding. The redistribution of the redistribution cannot garner the votes to pass in Congress.

The Democratic Party went down to resounding defeat in the 2010 election in no small part because it had lost its vision and courage. It lost because it rocked back on its heels at the charge that health care and financial reforms were acts of “class warfare” and “redistribution of wealth.” It lost the war of words. No one fought back to reframe the discussion until Bernie Sanders, America’s only socialist senator, spoke the truth of the terrible, growing disparity of wealth in America. He dared to speak truth: The question before the Congress is not whether wealth will be redistributed. The only question is how. Will the current redistribution continue? Or will there be a re-redistribution?

Words matter. Language matters. Ideas matter.  So long as the American people remain easily manipulated by code words and slogans that distort reality like a funhouse mirror, and so long as elected officials and candidates recoil defensively instead of leading, the re-redistribution won’t stand a chance. It will be stillborn. The war of words will continue to be lost. Those who own the language run the world.

Is there a preacher in the White House who will finally dare to use his “bully pulpit” to put the issue squarely before the American people?  If the word were to come from the Oval Office that the real crossroads is not a redistribution of wealth but the re-distribution of the redistribution that has already taken place, would it reignite the spark of hope in the American soul?

The facts are already there.  What we need is a word from the bully pulpit.

Birth Certificate Comment

Watch the unedited speech and Scott Pulley’s interview with Mitt Romney after he referenced the birth certificate question in his home state of Michigan.

Click THIS LINK for the clip from the speech and Mr. Romney’s interpretation of in the CBS interview.

Then share with other readers of “Views form he Edge” your comments. What do your eyes and ears tell you?

This hour in history….

Remember this?

George W. Bush – battleship USS Abraham Lincoln: “Mission Accomplished!”

Now we have copycats:

Romney, Ryan, and the U.S.S. Wisconsin

But we will always have this:

This hour of history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take your pick.

Mitt Romney: Never Aplogize…EVER

This afternoon I was surprised to learn that Mitt Romney campaigned yesterday in my home town, Broomall, Pennsylvania. Click HERE for the video and my quick “comment” posted on Unedited Politics. I now live in Minnesota.

The Religious Parade: Unreal and Real

Click HERE to read and view the photos of religion on the campaign trail in Michael Gerson’s opinion piece in this morning’s Washington Post. Comment below to generate the discussion her.  But…before you do…ponder Steve Shoemaker‘s “The Donkey”  sent to me this morning in preparation for Palm/Passion Sunday.

THE DONKEY (A Children’s Verse)

The coats the folks are throwing down

sure make it hard for me to walk

especially carrying this clown

whose feet are almost to the ground.

“Hosannah King!” is all the talk,

but this guy seems to be as poor

as I am–no one could mistake

him for a Royal–he’s just a fake!

They wave palm branches, and they roar,

but my long ears can hear the real

parade across the city square:

the General, the Priests, the score

of war horses–the whole grand deal.

This pitiful parade will fail

to save a soul, and soon the yell

will change from “Hail!” to…”Kill!”

Elie Wiesel on Mormon Proxy Baptisms

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author and survivor of the Holocaust, has called on Mitt Romney to join him in calling on the Church of Latter Day Saints (“Mormons”) to stop baptizing Jews who have died.  I wrote the following comment on the Huffington Post story:

We’re taught, and rightly so, to be respectful of religions and views different from our own. But that does not erase the responsibility to think critically about one’s beliefs and practices or those of others. I have the greatest respect for Elie Wiesel and am grateful to him for exposing a practice that insults every Jew, every Christian, every Muslim, every Buddhist, everyone who could not in good conscience embrace any religion at all, by imposing Mormon baptism. Nothing could be more arrogant. The proxy baptisms are not the only beliefs and practices that deserve thoughtful examination. More troublesome to me is the underlying Mormon assumptions that make the United States of America the very center of all human history – the alleged geography of a real Garden of Eden (in Missouri) and of the Second Coming of Christ (also in Missouri). As much as the proxy baptisms, those beliefs should send chills down the spines of everyone whose God belongs to no one nation, no one culture, no one religion – the God of the heavens and the Earth “Whose ways are not our ways and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts.”

An earlier commentary on the matter (posted earlier) addresses the matter moer fully. It’s a reflection that includes a visit to the Mormon Visitation Center in NYC. Let me know what you think.

The God of American Exceptionalism

Gordon C. Stewart          February 7, 2012

Jacket of My People Is the Enemy

“The stairway smelled of piss….

This [a tenement apartment in East Harlem] was to be my home.  I wondered, for a moment, why. Then I remembered that this is the sort of place in which most people live, in most of the world, for most of the time. This or something worse. Then I was home.”  – William Stringfellow, My People Is the Enemy: An Autobiographical Polemic.

I’ve been holding my breath, wrestling with whether to speak aloud what I hear and see.

I’m a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, in the debt to the bold witness of the late William Stringfellow, lay theologian. I’m also a religious pluralist. I believe with Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet that there is not just one way, there are many sides to the mountain and many paths on which the Divine Mystery is experienced.

I have learned over the years to respect the multiplicity of ways different sides of the mountain experience the living God. I work hard to understand my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish neighbors. I often experience these discussions as encounters with God whose vastness, like the ocean, is so much greater than any of the tea cups in which we hold a few drops of the sea.

I also know that some forms of religion are just plain nuts. The religion of Jim Jones whose followers drank the purple Kool Aid in shared suicide in the jungle of Guyana is only the most ludicrous example of why we need to join comedian Lewis Black’s raging objection to political distortions of the truth: “You can’t just make s—t up!” Religion represents the best and the worst of the human psyche (the Greek word for ‘soul’).

Joseph Campbell, among others, long ago opened the aperture on my theological camera. He helped me to see that what we are all dealing with, on all sides of the mountain, is myth, the human spirit’s uniquely creative meaning-making activity that expresses both the grandeur and the terror of finite experience. Myth is not the opposite of truth; it is the story that points us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal.

My way of looking at the world is shaped by a vast variety of voices. Among them are Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose experiences of the horror of the absence of God caused them to poke their fingers in the eyes of prevailing religious traditions whose tidy moral worlds turn God into a cosmic sadist.

Any religion worth its salt in the 21st century has to pass through the existential protests of these thinkers and of the shrieks and cries that still echo across the world from Auschwitz and Buchenwald that poke holes in every theory of a morally ordered universe. The Garden of Eden was lost a long time ago and, in the wake of the closing of the gates to it, any religion has to take account of the human history that looks much more like the trail of tears paved by Cain’s slaying of Abel than like two innocent people in Paradise before the fall.

Yet there is a deep longing for something more tangible, more trustworthy than myth. Something one can touch, see, feel, smell – a story that is not a story but fact. The longing is strongest when we experience great uncertainty and insecurity.

With this perspective, I have been looking again at the fastest growing religion in America, Mormonism, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).

My first experience with the Mormons came quite by accident thirty years ago. I was riding a bus in New York City on my way uptown to visit African-American theologian James Cone at Union Theological Seminary in Harlem when I noticed the sign “Mormon Visitation Center.”  Already stressed by an unfamiliar transit system and feeling quite alone, I decided to get off the bus and take the tour.

Unlike the streets outside that were filled with trash and lit by flashing neon signs, the Visitation Center was spick-and-span. Everything was in perfect order, complete with a hologram of a Mormon family in a tranquil woods sitting in a circle, listening to the white upper-middle-class family’s father sitting on a stump higher than the other members of the family, reading from the Book of Mormon to an enthralled wife and two perfect, obedient, happy children. The hologram elicited two responses. One was amazement. I had never seen or even heard of a hologram. The other was a sense of outrage at the perpetration of a promise that was, in short, nothing but a hologram, the illusionary projection of someone’s idea of Eden that would strike a chord with visitors who long for the lost woods of the Garden of Eden. It offered a world of perfection: orderly, tidy, white, rural – nothing like the urban world on the street outside – the antidote to the realities and complexities of life in New York City.

When I left the Mormon Visitation Center it never crossed my mind that the Mormon vision or mythology would become the fastest growing mythology in America in the 21st Century. I was relieved to get back on the bus on my way to Harlem.

I ask myself now why this is so. I look again at Mormon beliefs and practices to try to understand.

In Mormon teaching, the Garden of Eden was a historical place, and it was not in the Mesopotamian Valley by the Euphrates River, as in the original biblical myth of Genesis. It was in North America…in Missouri .

“According to Joseph Smith [Mormonism’s founder] the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri and following his expulsion from the Garden, Adam traveled northward to a place near modern-day Gallatin, Missouri. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt stated that the name Adam-ondi-Ahman “is in the original language spoken by Adam, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph” (Journal of Discourses 18:343) – Bill McKeever, Mormon Research Ministry.

It is to this very spot of physical geography that Jesus will return at the Second Coming. None of this is in the realm of myth. It’s fact. You can go there to touch it and  walk on it, knowing that Adam was there long before you and that, after you have walked there, it will prove to be the epicenter of the universe, the very spot where Christ will return.

Why is the Mormon myth gaining such traction in America? And why would I break the code of silence, the well-advised reticence to those of us who share White Calf’s belief that the Divine Mystery is known differently on different sides of the mountain?

Some things are too important to leave unaddressed. The Mormon mythology is quintessentially American.

The myth that America is the center of transcendent goodness and power, the world’s epicenter, the original Garden of Eden and the place of Christ’s return, the people of “Manifest Destiny”, the one exception to the rising and falling of empires and nations, is losing its hold on us at home and abroad. We are losing our sense of innocence. Yet there lurks the nostalgia for the secure home provided by the illegitimate marriage of Jesus’ gospel of the Kingdom of God with America, “the City set upon a hill” of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and of John Winthrop’s sermon to English settlers on their voyage to the new world.

As Nietzsche knew, such gods don’t die easily, even when they’re already dead. When the town crier takes his lantern into the darkened town square at midnight crying “God is dead! God is dead!” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the rest of the town regarded him as a madman. But it would be only a matter of time before the news would reach their ears.  It was the god of Western civilization that Nietzsche’s madman pronounced dead.

When something dear to us dies, especially when it is the prevailing religious myth of a nation about its own holiness and invulnerability, we become like starving people who continue to look in the same old bare cupboard for bread.

What better place to go than the reassurance that America is still the center – the ancestral home of a real man named Adam, who came complete with his own (now lost language, the special place to which Jesus (who visited the lost tribe of Israel in the Americas between his resurrection and bodily ascension into heaven) will return? When the Christian story the story is concretized to a finite, mortal place, it power as myth – pointing us beyond ourselves to the transcendent and the eternal – is not only lost but turned on its head.

There are many sides of the mountain, and it behooves all of us to approach people of different religious traditions with open ears and open minds. But approaching another’s religious beliefs respectfully does not require that we pretend not to see what we see or that we conclude that all religions are really the same or that one opinion is as good as another in the free market of religious truth claims. “You can’t just make stuff up!”

Let me say without hesitation that what I see in Mormonism is but the most exaggerated illustration of the idolization of the nation that includes so much of the American churches of whatever stripe where the nation is enshrined as God and where patriotism is the unspoken highest virtue with the cross wrapped in a flag.

The American wars of foreign intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan could not have happened without this widespread faith in American goodness and exceptionalism. It is the cardinal sin that afflicts us across all denominational and religious lines. Whenever the Jesus executed by the Roman Empire becomes the Imperial King of a new empire, those who continue to hear the shrieks and cries of the world that suffers – and who continue to smell the piss on the stairway in the place we call “home”- are obliged to break the silence, violate the code, and get back on the bus to Harlem.

Religion and the White House

Gordon C. Stewart          Feb. 14, 2012

Is the religion of presidential candidates off limits?

President Obama’s remarks at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast and Mitt Romney’s statement about the poor and the wealthy resurrect a question regarded since 1960 as off the table.

The religious issue in 1960 was the Roman Catholicism of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No Roman Catholic had ever been elected President. The question was whether a faithful Catholic would be subservient to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, in matters of state. Finally the question was put to Kennedy himself.

Since that time, with the exception of conservative fundamentalist Christians, American culture has increasingly accepted the separation of one’s religion from one’s politics. Religious faith is regarded as private; political beliefs are public.

The old adage that the way to best assure civil tranquility is to steer clear of religion, sex, and politics is good advice at family reunions and the like, but does it serve the public interests of an informed electorate in a democratic republic?

It should not go unnoticed that then-candidate Obama’s faith was brought into the national spotlight when his political opposition sought to paint Mr. Obama as un-American because of comments made by pastor Jeremiah Wright.

The unspoken journalistic rule that “religion is off-the-table” was set aside by ABC’s investigative reporting into 500 hours of sermon tapes by Mr. Obama’s pastor and its decision to air a one-minute excerpt from one of Mr. Wright’s sermons.

It made no difference that the sermon from which the excerpt came was biblically-based and in the bold African-American preaching tradition of Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Howard Thurman that thunders the Hebrew prophet’s voice in scripture as it apply to today’s news. Nor did it matter that the statement about the chicken’s coming home to roost on 9/11 came after a long recitation of the history of American violence at home and abroad. Mr. Obama’s religion was on the table.

The public wanted to know. Was the President a Christian? Or was he, as some of his opponents claimed or insinuated, a Marxist, a secret Muslim, or un-American?

Mr. Obama eventually denounced the excerpt from Rev. Wright’s sermon, resigned from the church, and used the controversy to spell out his own views in a brilliant speech in Philadelphia on race in America called “A More Perfect Union.”

So here we are in 2012.

Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS), a Mormon. His statement about the very poor, the middle class, and the wealthy became the center of media controversy. “I’m in this race, he told CNN following his primary victory in Florida, “because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the  90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.” To be fair, his statement, like the Rev. Wright’s ignoried his earlier remarks. Nevertheless, the statement deserved careful scrutiny.

At the same time, President Obama’s religion was in the news again because of heavy criticism for connecting his faith with his public policies at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast  where he described his motivation as “living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.”  “These values,” he said, “they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.”

In doing so, Mr. Obama voiced a conviction central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The belief goes to the heart of the Christian faith – the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment in which Jesus tells his listeners that, if they want to know where to find “the Son of Man,” they will find him among the poor and destitute (Matthew 25:31-4.).”Insofar as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me.”

Mr. Obama’s view came under attack from a number of quarters. One response came in the Washington Times with the headline “President Obama misrepresents the teachings of Jesus at National Prayer Breakfast,” arguing that “Jesus did not teach that wealthy people should give more money to the government or charity than others should.” And on CNN on-line, the public comments re: the President’s position ran heavily against his view.

At the same time, Mitt Romney’s stock was rising. So is his religion. Years ago Leo Tolstoy asked the American Ambassador to Russia about the new religion in America, the Ambassador pleaded ignorance, Tolstoy described Mormonism as “the quintessentially American religion” that would one day catch fire and be unstoppable.

Is religion on the table or off the table in 2012? If it’s on the table for discussion, as in Mr. Obama’s Prayer Breakfast statement, the question about the “quintessentially American religion” should also be on the table. How would Mr. Romney’s religious views affect his public policy decisions? What difference would it make to his conduct of foreign policy that his religion is American-centric, believing that “Christ  appeared in the western hemisphere between his resurrection and ascension to heaven; that the State of Missouri is the site of the Garden of Eden as well as the site where Jesus will return at the Second Coming? “For this and other reasons, including a belief by many Mormons in American exceptionalism, Molly Worthen speculates that this may be why Leo Tolstoy described Mormonism as the “quintessential ‘American religion'” (Wikipedia).

One does not need to be a partisan opponent or a despiser of religion to ask whether a candidate for the Presidency believes that America is sacred, God’s chosen people, and if so, what the implications are for how he would use American power and influence in a world that is always just one step away from nuclear holocaust.

It was the pernicious idea of American exemption from the way of the nations that got us into Iraq, and it is the rejection of that idea that has allowed us to begin to pull back into a more humble and realistic way of being America. The idea of American exceptionalism is widespread across party and religious lines in America, and, most sadly, an electorate that fears the future may fall for whichever candidate continues the illusion that America is God.

If I could ask one question to those who aspire to the White House, I would ask them to reflect, line by line, on the Clifford Bax’s hymn (1919):

Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.
Old now is earth, and none may count her days.
Yet thou, her child, whose head is crowned with flame,
Still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim,
“Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.”

Earth might be fair, and all men glad and wise.
Age after age their tragic empires rise,
Built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
Would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

Earth shall be fair, and all her people one:
Nor till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.
Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,
Peals forth in joy man’s old undaunted cry—
“Earth shall be fair, and all her folk be one!”

Melody from The Genevan Psalter